Scenario methods in strategic environmental assessment

The MiSt Programme

The aim of the project is to explore how elements of different types of scenario approaches can be combined into an effective tool within SEA. Focus will be on how goals for sustainable development can be integrated into strategic decision-making and on how the scenario approaches work in the context of SEA. Another aim is to see if workshop techniques adopted from scenario planning can be an effective forum for broad participation. The goal is to present a SEA-approach based on scenario methods that works under practical conditions.

The sustainability concept has added a visionary element to planning, by suggesting a need for long-term radical goals for society’s emission levels and resource use. These goals sometimes presuppose a new direction for the development of society, with consequences for spatial patterns, travel and consumption habits etc. At the same time influential schools of planning theory maintain that in practice planning is more reactive than goal oriented and that it is characterised by bounded rationality. There is a growing insight that the development of society is highly complex and to a large extent unpredictable. The long-term effects of policy measures are only partly foreseeable. There is a need to find ways to cope with the challenges of sustainability, while keeping the participatory character of planning and developing its ability to cope with unforeseen external developments.

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) has been introduced as a means to incorporate environmental aspects into planning and policy making at different levels of society. An interesting question is what potential SEA has to integrate and reconcile the visionary and the incremental views on social change into both an effective and open planning process. The use of future scenarios is sometimes recommended in the prescriptive literature on SEA and there is also some evidence of their use. There is however little guidance available on the appropriate methods for future studies in SEA and there still remains a lot to be done before the full potential of scenario use can be realised.

The project is intended to run throughout the programme period. In the first part of the project a review of cases where scenarios have been used in planning and policy-making will be done. The second part of the project will involve the development and testing of a scenario approach in close co-operation with a planning body. The area of application will in the first instance be municipal energy planning, where, through cooperation with project 1, contact has been established with the municipality of Finspång. The method for scenario use will however be generally applicable across most sectors and strategic levels. In the later part of the project we may decide to test the method in a different setting. A possible area of application could then be regional transport planning.

The handling of the future is a key aspect of strategic decision making and SEA. This project will help clarify how different kinds of scenario methods can be used in different phases of SEA. This information will be helpful when trying to form a complete picture of useful tools for SEA. The relationship between scenario analysis and environmental prediction tools will be investigated and tested in the common case study on municipal energy planning between this project and project 1.

The results will be published in reports and peer-reviewed scientific journals. A doctoral thesis will, also be produced partly within this project. The results will also be presented at international conferences.

If well received the approach will contribute to a general advancement of planning practice of interest to planners and policy-makers at different levels. It will also be an advancement of the SEA-methodology of interest to authorities, planners, policymakers and the scientific community.

Project manager is Dr Karl-Henrik Dreborg at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). Also participating in the project are Jessica Johansson at FOI, who is a doctoral student at the Department of Spatial planning, Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH), and her supervisor Prof. Lars Emmelin, BTH.




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